While I was growing up, there was this mysterious faraway woman we called “Aunt Dorothy.” She was the opera singer my grandmother worked for, lived with, traveled with, made clothes for, and for whom my grandmother continues to work today. Although Dorothy Kirsten passed away in 1992, my grandmother has kept herself employed as the keeper of Dorothy’s legacy. That legacy fills my grandmother’s apartment in L.A. in the form of thousands of photographs, books, costumes, jewelry, paintings, and other assorted momentos of all the decades she and Dorothy lived through together.
Unfortunately, my grandmother (now 97 years old) had a stroke a few weeks ago, and the stroke left her with very limited vision. So I am here with her now, beginning to unearth these boxes of memories, going through page after page of opera history. It’s an unorganized archive, a scattered encyclopedia, and kind of walk-in time machine of sound, words, and pictures. I’ve been getting to know so much about Dorothy and my grandmother by going through these things. It’s pretty amazing.
Here’s a video of Dorothy Kirsten, the woman to whom my grandmother has devoted her entire life, in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly: